Footage shows DWI arrest of Hays County Commissioner

Commissioner Walt Smith pleaded no contest to lesser charge in Sept., was ordered to install an ignition interlock device on his vehicle

AUSTIN – Hays County Commissioner Walt Smith repeatedly stumbled in pain and claimed his eyes were burning during a 2021 interaction with police that ended with him being charged with DWI, body-worn camera footage obtained by KSAT Investigates shows.

The forty minutes of footage from Smith’s April 2021 vehicle crash and subsequent arrest in Austin were released to KSAT through a public records request, months after Smith pleaded no contest to obstruction of a passageway.

The charge carries the same Class B misdemeanor designation as a first offense of DWI, but is a non-intoxication charge and typically requires a defendant to pay smaller amounts in fines and court costs than a DWI plea deal would.

Smith, who has repeatedly claimed his innocence since signing a plea agreement with Travis County prosecutors, was sentenced to nine months of community supervision in September and ordered to install an ignition interlock device on his vehicle for five months, court paperwork shows.

Records show he paid more than $500 in fines and court costs in early November.

“I’m sorry. I’ll start. I apologize.”

Smith was driving a pickup truck just after 3 a.m. on April 28, 2021, when officers said it collided with a large box truck at an intersection along Lake Austin Blvd.

Smith ran a red light before crashing into the box truck, causing the larger truck to flip over and drag Smith’s pickup truck several hundred feet, officers said in the footage.

A truck driven by Commissioner Walt Smith (left) collided with a box truck, causing it to flip onto its side. (KSAT)

Smith at first told officers he was fine but then began to complain that his right knee hurt, the footage shows.

He declined to be treated by EMS at the scene at least six times.

“If I thought I needed it, I would ask for it. But my knee, it just hurts,” Smith said in the footage.

The driver of the other truck is shown in the footage and did not appear to be seriously injured during the crash.

Smith told police he was attending a late-night hearing at the state capitol, about two miles from the crash scene, and was returning to his family home in Driftwood, southwest of Austin.

He told officers he had two alcoholic beverages and was a 2 on a scale of 0-10, with zero being not intoxicated at all and 10 being the most intoxicated he’s been in his life.

Smith, who was cordial, but at times argumentative with officers in the footage, repeatedly doubled over in pain and had difficulty taking part in a field sobriety test.

“I’m sorry. I’ll start. I apologize,” said Smith, while struggling to do the one-leg stand test.

Commissioner Walt Smith winces in pain while taking part in a field sobriety test on April 28, 2021. (KSAT)

Officers noted that Smith was swaying and had a strong odor of alcohol coming from him, Smith’s arrest report states.

As the arresting officer brought out a light to conduct the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, Smith reached for his eyes and repeatedly said they were burning.

He blamed the ailment on powder getting in his eyes from the truck’s airbags deploying.

Commissioner Walt Smith rubs his eyes during a field sobriety test in April 2021. (KSAT)

Smith then repeatedly refused to provide a breath specimen at the scene, the footage shows.

After the arresting officer ended the field sobriety test he placed Smith under arrest for DWI.

Commissioner Walt Smith placed in handcuffs in April 2021. (KSAT)

After signing a plea agreement with prosecutors in September, Smith released a statement through his campaign calling it a “minor traffic accident” and that the matter had concluded with his “innocence confirmed.”

The statement repeatedly contradicts the footage of his arrest and falsely states that officers at the scene expressed no suspicion that he was impaired.

Multiple officers in the footage suspected Smith of being impaired.

The full statement reads:

“Over the course of my career, I have attended hundreds of legislative hearings and negotiations supporting initiatives and on behalf of my constituents, which sometimes extend late into the night. On April 28, 2021, after leaving the Capitol, I was involved in a minor traffic accident with a local delivery truck. I called 911, spoke with officers upon their arrival, and was taken to the hospital for evaluation of a leg injury. While at the hospital, I was informed that I was under arrest for DWI, even though no blood was drawn, no breathalyzer given, and officers at the scene expressed no suspicion of impairment. Upon reviewing the evidence, the DWI charge was dropped and I was instead charged with a misdemeanor traffic violation for obstructing a pathway. Due to the pandemic, the Travis County court system was backlogged and unable to hear my case for nearly a year and a half. While I wish this matter could have been dealt with sooner, my attorney was finally able to meet with prosecutors on September 16, 2022, who agreed the DWI charge should be dropped. Although it is easy to rush to judgement, our judicial system exists to ensure that evidence is considered fairly and judgments are accurate. I take my position as County Commissioner and the safety of our community seriously, and continue my service with appreciation that this matter has been fairly concluded and my innocence confirmed.”

Smith did not respond to an email late last month seeking an interview for this story.

Instead, an attorney representing Smith sent an email claiming Smith has taken responsibility for his actions.

After KSAT showed up to the Feb. 28 Hays County Commissioner Court meeting, Smith said he had not seen the footage but proclaimed again that he was innocent.

“I think that the evidence was very clear where the prosecutor would have done something differently,” said Smith, prior to the start of the meeting.

He took issue with a follow-up question from KSAT about the extent of his injuries that night, as officers in the footage were repeatedly skeptical about whether he was hurt.

Hays County Commissioner Walt Smith. (KSAT)

The arresting officer repeatedly told Smith he was “fine” in the footage.

“It’s very obvious with the nature of your question that you don’t want to get to the truth of the situation,” said Smith, who added that he was treated at a hospital after the crash for injuries to his knee and eyes.

“If you would like a longer interview or something like that I would appreciate you reaching out, just like you did last week,” said Smith, who again did not respond to KSAT’s original request for an interview.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.